Thursday, November 8, 2007

Globalization Is Good For You

From time to time we hear laments in the media about the flow of jobs out of the country and the deteriorating economic position of the American middle class. Much of the blame is placed on globalization (when they get done blaming Bush), but this article by Daniel Griswold in the New York Post argues that the conventional complaints about globalization are little more than myths. Griswold points out, for instance, that:

Like so many assumptions about trade, the belief that more global competition has somehow lowered the living standards of the average American worker and family is just a myth. The critics have it all wrong: The middle class isn't disappearing - it's moving up.

The Census reports that the share of U.S. households earning $35,000 to $75,000 a year (in '06 dollars) - roughly, the middle class - has indeed shrunk slightly over the last decade, from 34 percent to 33 percent. But so, too, has the share earning less than $35,000 - from 40 percent to 37 percent.

It's the share of households earning more than $75,000 that's jumped - from 26 percent to 30 percent.

Trade has helped America transform itself into a middle-class service economy. Yes, the country's lost a net 3.3 million manufacturing jobs in the past decade - but it's added a net 11.6 million jobs in service and other sectors where average wages are higher than in manufacturing. Most of these new jobs are in better-paying categories, like professional and business services, finance and education and health services.

Critics of trade repeat as a mantra that real wages have been stagnant since the 1970s. But the data on real wages exclude benefits - which have been rising as a share of worker compensation. Those data also rely on a cost-of-living index that has systematically overstated inflation and thus understated real income gains.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average real hourly compensation earned by Americans has actually grown by 22 percent during the past decade - even as trade and other measures of globalization have grown rapidly.

There's more in the article to shine a ray of optimism into the gloominess you might be feeling today as the Dow continues its dispiriting free-fall.


On Scientific Theories

The conventional wisdom has long been that intelligent design is a religious, not a scientific, hypothesis and when Judge Jones' oracular ruling in the Dover trial reinforced the conventional view everyone nodded their heads in unthinking agreement. Dave Scott over at Uncommon Descent argues persuasively that this is simply wrong. He explains succinctly why it is that ID bears the chief qualification of any theory that aspires to be scientific - it's falsifiable.

Scott writes:

Karl Popper famously stated that a hypothesis is scientific if it can be falsified. He used swans as an example. He stated a hypothesis:

All swans are white.

Popper said that it can never be proven that all swans are white because there is always the possibility that a black swan exists somewhere but has not yet been observed. He stated that the hypothesis is still scientific because it can be falsified - the observation of a single black swan will falsify it.

The biological ID hypothesis can be stated as:

All complex biological systems are generated by intelligent agents.

We already know, or may reasonably presume, that complex biological systems can be generated by intelligent agents. There's a whole discipline called "Genetic Engineering" devoted to it. What we don't know is whether any non-intelligent means can generate complex biological systems. A single observation of a complex biological system generated by a non-intelligent cause will falsify the biological ID hypothesis.

[The bacterium] P.falciparum replicating billions of trillions of times in the past few decades represents the largest search to date for a "black swan". This is orders of magnitude more replications than took place in the evolution of reptiles to mammals wherein there are many exceedingly complex biological systems that separate them. If P.falciparum had been seen generating any complex biological systems such as those that distinguish mammals from reptiles then it would have falsified the ID hypothesis. None were observed. This doesn't prove ID but it certainly lends strong support to it. All perfectly scientific.

It might be argued, however, by those who deny the claim that ID is science that had P. falciparum produced complex systems that it would have at best only falsified certain versions of ID. Many ID theorists believe that design was front-loaded into the cosmos so that the Designer produced a semi-deterministic process that would gradually unfold the varieties of living things we see today. Someone who holds this view, if confronted by empirical evidence of complex systems produced during the trillions of falciparum replications, could technically claim that the bacterium is simply playing out the program that had been downloaded into the universe (or into life) at its origin.

Thus, the critic might argue, ID is not falsifiable even if it appears that natural processes are producing the complex systems that ID alleges natural processes cannot produce. Therefore, ID is not a truly scientific theory.

Even so, whatever the technical refuges available to the IDer might be, discovering an actively evolving complex system in P.falciparum would deal a devastating psychological blow to intelligent design and would make it very difficult for anyone advocating it to get traction in the intellectual community. For this reason I agree with Scott that ID is in principle psychologically falsifiable if not technically so.

Moreover, it is at least as falsifiable as is the Darwinian claim that natural forces and processes are responsible for the great diversity of life we see in the world around us. What set of observations could be reasonably expected to prove that claim false?

Thus if that claim is considered to be within the domain of science there's no justification, other than metaphysical prejudice, for excluding the claim that natural processes are inadequate to account for specified complexity in the biosphere.